ELLSWORTH — It’s a good bet that the first image that most Americans associate with video games is not dementia, or children’s books, or social awareness, or, well, reality. But Chuck Carter wants you to think differently.
The video game artist moved his offices into the Ellsworth Business Development Corp.’s Union River Center for Innovation last year. His studio is called Eagre Games.
“Reality has the best stories to tell,” said Carter. “I think that by pulling from your memory, from your experience, telling a story through those elements of your own life make for a richer experience.”
Reality is indeed what guided Carter’s newest gaming venture, “ZED,” which was released earlier this summer. The computer-constructed video game is set in a surrealist world based in part on Carter’s childhood home. There are rooms made of wall-to-wall doors, landscapes that resemble ancient ruins, cluttered with books and filing cabinets, a giant cog towering overhead, a room with carpeted stairs leading into a massive pumpkin. It’s a dreamscape.
The premise of “ZED” is relatively simple.
“There’s a man who’s dying, has dementia, wants to put a children’s book together for his granddaughter, but he can’t remember how to make the artwork.”
You, the player, have to “Help him reconnect fragments of his memories that allow him to make something he can leave behind.”
The game is personal for Carter, loosely based on a mentor of his who had dementia and loved making art.
“It was heartbreaking because he couldn’t remember how to do something that was so intrinsic to who he was,” he recalled.
“ZED” is Eagres Games’ first published title. The game was years in the making.
“There were lots of starts and stops.” He ran out of money last year and had to lay off his small staff. A deal with video game company Cyan Inc., with which Carter worked developing the wildly popular game “Myst” in the 1990s, helped a bit, but that also meant concessions:
“Cyan wanted a smaller tighter game. They really wanted to focus on the virtual reality of it,” said Carter. He also raised some money via Kickstarter, but not close to what it would have taken to do what he originally imagined.
“To do it right, the way I envisioned it originally, would have cost, $1.2, $1.5 million,” he said. “We’re still talking well under $200,000 for three years. $200,000 sounds like a lot of money but in game development that’s just enough to get started. Every penny I’ve made pretty much has gone back to this company.”
“ZED” follows in the footsteps of Myst, which was a groundbreaking game when it was released in 1993, selling millions of copies. In both games, players are immersed in a fictional, dreamlike world where they must use logic and puzzles to complete the game. Neither game requires violence or fast reflexes, and both tell a story.
But unlike “Myst,” “ZED” emerged into a world in which gamers are often watching one another play. That means Carter has been able to follow reactions to the game from across the globe.
“We’re finding the story is connecting to a lot of people on a lot of different levels,” he said. “It’s striking a chord with a lot of people. It became a very emotional experience for them.”
One girl playing on YouTube was crying at the end of the game, he said. “We’ve had people my age, old people, playing the game and [they] absolutely love it. They’re looking at the nostalgia of it.”
Others, mostly young girls streaming on the platform Twitch, “are going crazy looking for the squeakies,” small stuffed animals that squeak when a user points at them.
“People are finding different elements that appeal to them,” said Carter. “It kind of transcends any one demographic. It was very unexpected.”
To learn more, visit eagregames.com.